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Anodyne

by Sonia Arora

In those days there were no bright digital numbers, blue against black, assuring you had found the right place. You’d turn the dial and find the radio station, sometimes jiggling to avoid static, cobwebs of sound muffling the tune, until you found just the right spot and heard U2, Prince, or some other idol of your liking. You’d hear such artists in the grocery store and at work, and so you imbibed the songs of the 80s, and they stayed in your bloodstream long after, even if you chose not to seek them out at live concerts.

Maybe I was counter-culture; maybe I was queer. This Yonkers girl, having lived in both Punjab and New York, found succor in the devotional music of kirtan, mystic poetry set to a harmonium, like a piano with a pump, and tabla, like bongo drums. Not something I could often find on the airwaves. Devotional music was the hum under my breath as I traversed the world of public high school delving and questioning American Literature, European history, biology, trigonometry, and so much more

Kirtan caught me like unspooled thread. I latched onto Punjabi poetry about finding the beloved. It echoed the language of my grandparents, who were slowly slipping away from my life. My grandfather died when I was sixteen, prompting family members in Ludhiana to quarrel about property and inheritance. My family was disintegrating. The music, the poetry, remained. In them, I found shelter. As I took the 20 bus down Central Avenue to high school, I tapped my knee to the rhythms of kirtan, dhun dhanakadin dhun, as if home could be eternal in the wavelength of sound or in the Punjabi hymns of shabad. I searched for the outdoor bazaars of Ludhiana pink carrots and mooli (radish), among strip malls and the Yonkers Raceway. 

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Lighthouse

by Sheila Moeschen

That spring brought a slow thaw and Becca’s divorce papers.

“Will you come with me to do something?” Becca asked.

“Of course,” I said without hesitation. “What are we doing?”

“A ritual,” she said giving her eyebrows a theatrical wiggle. We laughed.

Three years ago Becca and Neil were married at the lighthouse. In the same way it called ships to harbor, the lighthouse was an irresistible draw for couples. Maybe it represented the idea of a light pricking the darkness, hope housed in a tower of brick, glass, and metal to them. Becca and Neil claimed this site as their own the way so many others had before them, grafting wishes for constancy onto a place where erosion was inevitable.

After the brief ceremony we posed on the rocks in our mismatched bridesmaid dresses like the oddest collection of mermaids just finding our feet. We shivered as the salt wind lapped at our bare shoulders and ran its sticky fingers through our hair. The April sky was the color of blanched sea glass. High, thin clouds hurried across the horizon; we barely made it to the backyard reception before the first fat rain drops fell. 

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The Conflagration

by Brent Fisk

In what should have been my future, I’d have turned my small record shop into a giant retailer with a cadre of devoted customers seeking advice on what album to buy next: Which Big Star record is best? Where to turn once the grooves of Kinks Kronikles are too worn to play? Who else has a voice as pure as Sandy Denny’s? I envisioned a homely couch where like-minded fans could sit and talk music. A cooler in the backroom stocked with Nehi and Warsteiner. A pinball machine beckoning from one corner. Rack after rack of brilliant albums. Reclaimed bookshelves stuffed with tasteful erotica, foreign poetry, the odd Scandinavian police procedural.

Instead I’ve strolled down a quite different career path. I’m a staid librarian at the local university. The IRS no longer hounds me for financial records so they can discover every small equivocation and the fuzzy math of my desperate record shop self. Those papers turned to ash in the arson that followed the burglary. This current job is easy to leave at day’s end. I can forget it like a coat hung on the back of a door. I no longer reek of incense and patchouli. When I wake in the middle of the night it’s because I have to pee, not because of the sheer terror of a negative account balance. I know the true meaning of the hoary phrase, a smoldering ruin.

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